Rodney Needham

Rodney Needham (15 May 1923 – 4 December 2006 in Oxford) was one of the leading British social anthropologists.

Born as Rodney Phillip Needham Green, Needham changed his name in 1947, the same year he married Claudia (Ruth) Brysz, they had two children, one of whom, Tristan, became a professor of mathematics Tristan Needham.

His fieldwork was with the Penan of Borneo (1951-2) and the Siwang of Malaysia (1953-5). He was University Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Oxford University, 1956–76; Professor of Social Anthropology, Oxford, 1976–90; Official Fellow, Merton College, Oxford, 1971–75; and Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1976-90.

Together with Sir Edmund Leach and Mary Douglas, Needham brought structuralism across the Channel and anglicised it in the process. A prolific scholar, he was also a particularly inspiring teacher and an indefatigable rediscoverer of neglected figures in the history of his discipline, such as Arnold Van Gennep and Robert Hertz.

Among other things, he made a significant contribution to the study of family resemblance, introducing the terms "monothetic" and "polythetic" into anthropology.


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